What happened to 1924 Preakness winner Nellie Morse?

Aug 14th 2013 11:16 pm |

Nellie Morse

Nellie Morse

A few weeks ago I had a comment posted to a story I did in 2009 about Nellie Morse, the filly winner of the 1924 Preakness Stakes. Jacquie Rohr from Apple Valley, Minnesota left this message:

Is there any information about what happened to Nellie Morse after racing[?] My grandmother, she is 91, owned a horse that won the Preakness when she was a young girl. We grew up thinking it was Nellie Flag, daughter of Nellie Morse. Through research I have discovered the timing is not right. I believe she owned Nellie Morse. Any insight to helping me solve this mystery while my grandmother is still alive is greatly appreciated. My grandmother has severe alzheimers so some of Nellie’s details are lost in her mind, but she still talks about her and how fast she was.

Of course, I was intrigued, and did some digging into Nellie Morse’s life after her racing career. She retired from the track in 1925 and was sent for breeding to Travers winner Sporting Blood at Thomas Platt’s Farm in Latonia, Kentucky.[1]

Both Sporting Blood and Nellie Morse were owned by famed cartoonist Bud Fisher.[2]  In 1932, Fisher dispersed his stock and Warren Wright of Calumet Farm purchased Nellie Morse while she was in foal to American Flag.[3] She had three previous foals of little distinction under Fisher’s ownership but her first born at Calumet became the champion two-year-old filly, Nellie Flag. Nellie Morse is mentioned throughout the 1930s in newspapers and the Daily Racing Form in connection with Nellie Flag.[4] Her death was reported in 1941 but finding any other details about her life after racing proved difficult to come by.[5]

As I hit a series of dead-ends, it occurred to me that Ms. Rohr’s family history might include previously unknown information about the post-racing life of the 1924 Preakness winner. I followed up and asked her to provide more information about her grandmother and she replied with this:

My grandmother’s name is Alene Bernice Todd (Todd was her maiden name). She is the daughter of Erba (Libby she was called) Todd and John Todd. She lived in Clarence, KY. Clarence no longer exists but the postal service in that area is now covered by Eubank, KY so some people may remember it as Eubank. [Note: Eubank is about 60 miles south of Lexington]

She was born in 1922, so I am thinking she had this horse around the age of 10 or so. That would make it around 1932. This explains why I do not believe that Nellie Flag was her horse. My grandmother being a country girl on a farm in those days would have probably already been married when Nellie Flag was around and I hear Nellie Flag spent her retirement at Calumet Farms.

Thank you again, I am hoping to solve this “mystery” while my grandmother is still alive and be able to record it accurately for future family generations.

According to Pedigree Query, Nellie Morse produced named foals in 1927, 1928, 1932, and 1933 with her last known offspring coming in 1937. Knowing that, we can assume she would have been at Calumet for most of her life until the late 1930s. This is where the story seems to hit a snag. If a family memory puts Nellie Morse in Clarence, Kentucky around 1932, in a period when she was still an active broodmare, then we might have a hard time confirming the story of her being at farm sixty miles south of Calumet in the early 1930s.

However, I still have questions. Without a record of offspring in Pedigree Query is it possible that Nellie Morse was not bred at all from 1934 to 1936? If that is the case, where was Nellie Morse during these three years? Did Calumet keep broodmares on the farm when they were not being bred?  If they didn’t, is it possible that Nellie Morse lived at Ms. Rohr’s grandmothers farm? Nellie Morse was bred for a final time at Calumet Farm in 1937, her ownership did not change during her career as a broodmare.  Without knowing about the management of Calumet during this period, I wonder if Nellie Morse could have been relocated during her period of inactivity in the mid-1930s?

I followed up with Ms Rohr and asked if her grandmother’s family had any connection to the racing business, and she replied. “….the family was not involved in horse racing at all, they were tobacco farmers.” Its fascinating to think of the possibility that a Preakness winner could land on the farm of a tobacco farmer with no connection whatsoever to racing. Unfortunately, the memory and the facts are hard to align but I thought I would make an appeal here at Colin’s Ghost for more information.

I asked Ms. Rohr for permission to publish portions of our correspondence with the hope that a reader might be able to provide additional information to assist in confirming or refuting her family’s story. So, any information about Nellie Morse’s post-racing career or insights into Calumet’s breeding operation during the 1930s would be greatly appreciated. Feel free to post as a comment or send me an email and I can forward it to the Rohr family.

Thanks for reading!

Image of Nellie Morse from Bob Moore’s Those Wonderful Days, 1976

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Sources / Notes
  1. Daily Racing Form, 3 March 1932 http://bit.ly/13kFyi9 []
  2. Bud Fisher was the author of the comic strip Mutt and Jeff. []
  3. Information about the sale was found on a website that reprinted a story from a publication called Pedlines. http://bit.ly/16bNss2 []
  4. I searched DRF, Google News Archive, Fulton New York Postcards site, and New York Times.  All these sources mentioned Nellie Morse in connection with Nellie Flag or her win in the Preakness. []
  5. Myra Lewyn of the Bloodhorse tweeted out her exact death date — August 30 — and told me in a subsequent twitter exchange that she pulled that information from the American Racing Manual.  No other information is given in the ARM. []

Filed in Calumet Farms,Nellie Morse,Preakness



4 Responses to “What happened to 1924 Preakness winner Nellie Morse?”

  1. Allan Carter says:

    Kevin,
    Sorry I’m late, but things have been more hectic than usual, and I’m finally getting around to your column. According to the stud books, Nellie Morse had foals in 1927, 1928, 1931, 1932, 1933, and 1934; she was barren in 1935, slipped in 1936, had a foal in 1937, was barren 1938-1941 and died in 1941.

  2. Kevin Martin says:

    Hi Allan: Thanks so much for the additional information. That solves the mystery of where she was in ’35 and ’36. Hard to believe she would have been anywhere but Calumet from 1932 to 1937. Kevin

  3. T. J. Cassidy says:

    Kevin,

    Speaking of Preaknesses, I recall reading somewhere that about 1915 the Preakness morning-line favorite had died of arsenic poisoning. A contemporary account raged in then-fashionable hyperbole about the “dastardly deed” without mention that arsenic was then commonly used in horse treatment, albeit in much smaller doses.

    Do you know anything about this story?

  4. Kevin Martin says:

    Hey T.J.: Sorry I missed your question — that is interesting and the first I have heard of it. Something to add to the list for 2014. Thanks for the lead! Kevin